The Picture of Contented New Wealth: A Metaphysical Horror
Trade Paper, 218 pages, $19.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
“A Metaphysical Horror” … is it an explanation, or an excuse for a tale of terror? In Tariq Goddard’s extremely erudite The Picture of Contented New Wealth, what follows the colon of its title divulges much of the tone of the novel. Weighty, and weighted with socio-political ideology and spiritual significance, this unconventional supernatural story is more philosophical allegory than fright fest.
During the 1980s, Brigit Conti becomes a victim of demonic possession. A yuppie intellectual, Brigit resides with her husband Hartley and their spooky fey son in the English countryside. Tyger, Tyger is the name of their home; a dwelling that has a malevolent reputation and history, as well as reeking of literary resonance. Its name refers to a stanza from a William Blake poem: “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the forests of the night,/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
The cerebral scholarly tenor of the novel is mediated by some emotive description, as in this passage depicting the transformed Brigit: “The parts of her that did not resemble food on the turn appeared to be crafted from silvery wax, uncanny inhumanity pervading every inch of her sleeping body.” Many of the scenes which chronicle her descent into a satanic spiral have power and convey a palatable sense of unease.
Unfortunately, however, there is a very unsubtle didacticism about the book; a critical look at a shallow era’s societal ills. The exorcist, known as The Rector, sums up: “Low-level ‘perfect’ possession is much more common now than it was a hundred years ago. It thrives in a greedy epoch. Look into the eyes of every corporate whore and you’ll see it.”
Should The Picture of Contented New Wealth be considered a work in the dark fantasy genre, or simply be tossed off as well executed symbolic propaganda? It is neither fish nor fowl, though closer to the latter than the former. Author Tariq Goddard is a skilled wordsmith, but his work is bogged down by message. His emphasis is on the evils of greed and self-centeredness; the possession is a metaphor. Horror purists will probably be let down by Goddard’s choice of focus.